What Tenants Need To Know About The Law

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1 What Tenants Need To Know About The Law Does This Article Apply To You? This article is about tenants rights under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA). The RTA applies to most rental housing in Nova Scotia such as rooms, apartments, houses and land lease communities. But some rental housing is not covered by the RTA. For example, university residencies, hospitals, jails, prisons, maternity homes, nursing homes, and residential care facilities. If your housing is not covered by the RTA, this information does not apply to you. If you are not sure, to get information on how to contact your local Legal Aid Office for legal advice and/or information and other resources: Contacts Residential Tenancies Act The Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) sets the rules for rent increases, evictions, repairs, and many other issues that affect tenants. The most recent change to the RTA took place in November The Residential Tenancies Program is an administrative tribunal. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 1 of 25

2 The Residential Tenancies Program settles disputes between landlords and tenants and enforces their rights. It is like a court, but less formal. You can apply to Residential Tenancies and ask the Residential Tenancy Officer to make an order if your landlord is not following the rules set out in the RTA, such as not doing repairs or maintenance, or not respecting your rights. Landlords can also apply to Residential Tenancies if they think the tenant is not following rules such as causing damage or owing rent. When you apply to Residential Tenancies, Residential Tenancies will schedule a hearing. At the hearing, you and your landlord can each present your case to a member of Residential Tenancies. After the hearing, the Residential Tenancy Officer will make an order saying what you and your landlord must do. The following section will provide information on some things you might need to know about when you are first renting a place. Tenancy Agreements The term "tenancy" means your legal right to live in your place. Usually that right comes from an agreement between you and your landlord. This is sometimes called a tenancy agreement, a lease, or a rental agreement. A tenancy agreement is a legal contract between you and your landlord. It can be in writing or it can be a spoken agreement. A spoken agreement is sometimes called an oral or verbal agreement. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 2 of 25

3 If your tenancy agreement is in writing, read it carefully and make sure you understand it before signing it. For example, make sure that everyone who will be living with you is listed, and that you know how much you are agreeing to pay. Even if your tenancy agreement is not in writing, it is still legal. And you and your landlord must follow it. So make sure you understand what you are agreeing to. But, anything in your tenancy agreement that conflicts with the RTA is not valid. For example, your landlord cannot evict you without following certain steps set out in the RTA, even if your tenancy agreement says something different. You can have a year-to-year lease, month-to-month lease, weekto-week lease or fixed-term lease. A fixed term lease is for a specific period of time only. What Information Should The Landlord Give Me? When you first move in, your landlord must give you a copy of the Residential Tenancy Act along with a copy of your lease. Where Else Can I Get Information As A New Tenant? On the government website for Access Nova Scotia (Residential Tenancies), there are information brochures and other information for tenants and landlords. The brochures provide information about your legal rights and responsibilities as well as the landlord. Visit Access Nova Scotia s website: Access Nova Scotia - Residential Tenancies Last Updated: August 2014 Page 3 of 25

4 Other sources include Dalhousie Legal Aid Services (DLAS) Tenant Rights Guide (Guide to Rental Housing in Nova Scotia), and the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia (LISNS). Setting the Rent When You First Move In There is no limit on how much rent landlords can charge new tenants when they first move in. So, your starting rent will be whatever you and the landlord agree on, unless you live in a cooperative, non-profit, or other government supported housing. After you agree on a starting rent, there are no limits on how much your rent can go up, but your landlord can only increase your rent once in a 12 month period and cannot increase the rent in the first 12 month period. Security Deposits and Other Charges Your landlord can make you pay a security deposit before you move in. This deposit cannot be more than one-half month's rent. Your landlord can only use this deposit at the end of a lease, for unpaid rent or damages. You must either agree the landlord can use the security deposit for this purpose or the landlord has to apply to Residential Tenancies for a hearing. The Residential Tenancy Officer will decide how much of the security deposit the landlord will keep to go towards unpaid rent or damages. Your landlord can charge you a fee for late rent. The fee can be no more than 1% of your rent per month. Most other deposits, extra charges, or advance payments are illegal. For example, sometimes landlords say that if you want to Last Updated: August 2014 Page 4 of 25

5 get the apartment, you must buy something in it, such as curtains or appliances, or that you must pay a damage deposit, rental fee, or commission. This is illegal. Always get a receipt when you pay a rent deposit or any other charge. If you have paid an illegal deposit or charge, you can apply to Residential Tenancies to get the money back. You must apply within one year or you may lose your right to get the money back. Interest on Your Security Deposit Your landlord owes you interest on this deposit each year. The interest rate can change year to year. But, instead of paying you the interest separately, your landlord can add all of it to your security deposit. How much is to be paid in interest is based on regulation. You should check Access Nova Scotia - Residential Tenancies website to find out the interest rate. Discrimination It is against the law for landlords to discriminate against you because: of race, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, colour, nationality, religion, or the country where you were born; you have a disability; you are receiving Income Assistance, or; you have children living with you. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 5 of 25

6 Sometimes discrimination is direct. For example, a landlord might refuse to rent to you for one of the reasons listed above. Other kinds of discrimination are less direct. For example, a landlord might refuse to put in a ramp or make other changes for a tenant who uses a wheelchair. There might be strict rules about noise that are harder for people with children to follow. Or, a landlord might refuse to rent to people who have no credit rating. This can be a problem for young people and for people who are new to Canada. Landlords who will not change things like these to meet the needs of tenants could be discriminating against those tenants. The Human Rights Commission is an office of the Government of Nova Scotia. It is an independent agency created to administer Nova Scotia s Human Rights Act and to help build inclusive communities and protect human rights. If you believe your landlord is discriminating against you with respect to housing, you can make a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. You will need to contact Human Rights. Human Rights will also contact the landlord for information and may make efforts to resolve the complaint. If you file a written complaint, Human Rights will ask you and the landlord to take part in a Resolution Conference to see if an agreement can be worked out. If an agreement cannot be worked out, Human Rights may consider other forms of mediation or investigation to deal with the complaint. For more information, you can contact the Human Rights Commission by at or call (toll free) or (Halifax) You may also be able to get help from your local Legal Aid Office. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 6 of 25

7 Insurance Many tenants think that they do not need contents insurance because they are covered by their landlord's insurance. But, this is not usually true. The only time that your belongings might be covered by your landlord's insurance is when the damage is your landlord's fault. Having your own insurance can also help protect you if you cause damage by accident to your landlord's or another tenant's property. While You Are Living In Your Place Paying Your Rent IMPORTANT Be sure to get a receipt each time you pay your rent. The law says that your landlord must give you a receipt if you ask for one. If you pay rent with a money order, your copy of the money order is not a receipt unless it is signed and dated by your landlord. Rent receipts can be very important if you have a dispute with your landlord. Receipts can also be useful when you fill out your Income Tax Return. After you move out, your former landlord must give you receipts, if you ask, within 12 months. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 7 of 25

8 Rent Increases IMPORTANT You do not have to pay a rent increase that does not follow the rules in the RTA. If you do pay it, you can apply to Residential Tenancies to get your money back. In most cases, you must apply within one year. When you first move in, your landlord must wait at least 12 months before raising your rent. Any rent increases after that must be at least 12 months apart. There is no limit on how much your landlord can increase your rent. The only exception is for non-profit housing and manufactured homes. Your landlord must give you written notice of any proposed increase in rent. How much notice you need, depends upon the type of lease agreement you have. For more information on rent increases, Access Nova Scotia - Annual Allowable Rent Increase Amount. EXCEPTION FOR NON-PROFIT HOUSING If you live in subsidized housing, the rules about rent increases do not apply to you as your rent is based on your income. If you have a concern about your rent or your subsidy, contact your local Legal Aid Office. Find information on how to contact your local Legal Aid Office for legal advice and/or information and other resources here: Contacts Last Updated: August 2014 Page 8 of 25

9 Rent Decreases There are some situations when your rent might go down. There are situations when you can apply to Residential Tenancies to lower your rent, or to order your landlord to pay back some of the rent you have already paid. For example, the Residential Tenancy Officer can lower your rent if your landlord has reduced or stopped any services that used to be included in your rent. Also, if your landlord does not do proper maintenance, Residential Tenancies can lower your rent until your landlord fixes the problem and can make your landlord pay back some of the rent you have already paid. Click here for more information on repairs and maintenance, see directly below. Repairs and Maintenance NOTE Your landlord must keep your place in good condition and fit to live in. This is the law even if you knew about a problem before you rented the place, or if your lease says you took the place "as is". Your landlord is responsible for maintenance and repair of your place, and of things that came with your place, such as appliances, and of common areas, such as parking lots, elevators, and hallways. But, this does not apply to anything that you or your guests damage on purpose or by being careless. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 9 of 25

10 If you have maintenance or repair problems, first talk to your landlord about it. If this does not work, write a letter asking your landlord to fix the problem. Some landlords have a special form for you to fill out for this. Keep a photocopy of your letter or form and make a note of when you gave it to your landlord. If your landlord does not respond to your letter or form in a reasonable time, or refuses to do the repair, contact your municipal (local) government and ask for an inspection. If there are no municipal inspectors or property standards by-laws where you live, call the Province's 211 for assistance or visit their website: 211 If these steps do not work, you can apply to Residential Tenancies. You must pay a fee to make this application, but Residential Tenancies could make your landlord pay it back to you if you win your case. The application fee can be waived based on income. Ask about the waiver when you apply. You must apply to Residential Tenancies within one year after your lease ends. But, it is not always easy to tell when the one year started. If you are not sure, try to get legal advice and apply as soon as possible. If the Residential Tenancy Officer agrees that your landlord has not done enough to fix the problem, the Residential Tenancy Officer can order an "abatement" of rent. This means that your landlord must pay you back part of the rent you paid while the problem existed. The Residential Tenancy Officer can order that your rent will stay at the lower amount until the problem is fixed. The Residential Tenancy Officer can also order your landlord to make repairs, to repay money to you if you had to pay for repairs, or to make other payments to you. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 10 of 25

11 If you are having maintenance problems, other tenants in your building might be having these problems too. So, you might want to work together to get your landlord to fix them. You could do this informally or as members of a tenants' association. And, if you have to get legal help or apply to Residential Tenancies, doing this with other tenants can sometimes save time and money. Privacy The place you are renting is your home. Your landlord may own your place, but must respect your right to have privacy. The law says when your landlord has a right to enter your home. In most situations, your landlord has to let you know ahead of time. NOTE Your landlord can enter your home without telling you ahead of time only when it is an emergency. Your landlord can enter your place to show it to a new tenant, or possible buyers. The landlord must show your place at a reasonable time of day but does not require your permission or consent. This rule applies only if: You have given notice to move out; Your landlord has given you notice to move out; or You and your landlord have agreed that you will move out. In any other situation, your landlord must give you notice in writing 24 hours ahead of time and can come in during daylight hours. This rule applies if your landlord wants to: Last Updated: August 2014 Page 11 of 25

12 Do repairs or inspect your place to see if any repairs are needed; Show your place to a possible buyer, insurer, or mortgage lender; Let a real estate agent show your place to a possible buyer; For any reasonable purpose listed in your rental agreement. Your landlord has a right to enter your place only for the reasons listed above. You can let your landlord in at other times and for other reasons, but that is up to you. Harassment It is against the law for your landlord to harass you. But harassment can be hard to prove. It is a good idea to keep detailed notes about what is happening and to try to get legal advice. If the harassment is very severe, you could call the police. Use the non-emergency number for your local police department, unless someone's life or safety is in danger. Another thing you can do is apply to Residential Tenancies. The Residential Tenancy Officer could order your landlord to give you back some of your rent, or to pay you money. For more information on where to get advice and information: Contacts Harassment is also discrimination if someone does it because: Of race, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, colour, nationality, religion, or the country where you were born; You have a disability; Last Updated: August 2014 Page 12 of 25

13 You are receiving Income Assistance; or You have children living with you. For more information, see information sheet: Harassment and Discrimination Utilities and Vital Services Your landlord cannot cut off or interfere with any vital services such as electricity, heat or water. This includes things like your supply of water, electricity, or heat. If your lease said the service was included in the rent and the landlord wants you to now pay for it, it is a rental increase. The landlord has to provide proper written notice as if the landlord was increasing the rent. If your landlord cuts off or interferes with proper services, you should get legal help. Find information on how to contact your local Legal Aid Office for legal advice and/or information and other resources here: Contacts Moving Out You do not have to move out just because your lease has expired. Your tenancy continues until you or your landlord does something to end it. It will be automatically renewed on the same terms and conditions with the exception of a fixed lease. It will renew as if you had signed a month-to-month lease. If you want to move out, there are a few different ways to do this. Some of these are: You and your landlord can agree to end your tenancy; Last Updated: August 2014 Page 13 of 25

14 You can give your landlord notice (more information on notice directly below),. You can find a new tenant to take over your place, for more information: Assigning or Subletting Your Place You may also have to move out if your landlord evicts you. For more information about evictions: Eviction If your tenancy agreement is for a fixed period of time and you do not move out, your tenancy will automatically continue on a month-to-month basis. Sometimes this can be better, for example, if you know you want to stay past the end of the lease, but you are not sure how long. Giving Notice Your notice must give the date you want your tenancy to end. This is called the "termination date". Most of the time, the termination date must be the last day of a rental period. Usually that is the day before your rent is due. Type of Lease Year-to-Year Month-to-Month Week-to-Week Notice by Tenant 3 Months 1 Month 1 Week If you leave without giving proper notice, you might have to pay rent for some of the time after you move out. But, your landlord must also try to find a new tenant to take over as soon as possible. You are not responsible for rent after a new tenant moves in. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 14 of 25

15 Assigning or Subletting Your Place You can also try to find a new tenant yourself. This is called "assigning or subletting" your place. When you assign your place, the new tenant takes over your tenancy agreement or lease. The rules about this are complicated, so try to get more information or advice first if you want to do this. In most types of subsidized housing you cannot assign or sublet your lease. Getting Residential Tenancies To End Your Tenancy If you want to move out because your landlord is not following the law or your tenancy agreement, you can apply to Residential Tenancies to let you move out early. For example, you could do this if your landlord will not repair something or is harassing you. Usually, you have to prove that the problem is serious, and that you have given your landlord a reasonable chance to correct it. Eviction NOTE It is against the law for your landlord to evict you or lock you out without first getting an order from Residential Tenancies. If your landlord has locked you out without getting an order from the Residential Tenancy Officer, or is threatening to do this, call the police or get legal help right away. To evict a tenant, a landlord must follow the steps set out in the Residential Tenancies Act. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 15 of 25

16 The first step in the eviction process is for your landlord to give you a written notice explaining the reason your landlord wants you to leave. EXCEPTION Only for unpaid rent can your landlord get an order for eviction without having a hearing. Reasons For Eviction Here are examples of reasons that your landlord might put in the notice: You owe rent. You often pay your rent late. You or your guests did something illegal on the property. You or your guests caused damage or serious problems for your landlord or other tenants. Your landlord wants to tear down the building or use it for something else. Your landlord, your landlord's family, someone buying your place, or the buyer's family wants to move in. Family includes only spouse, child, parent, spouse's child, and spouse's parent. It also includes a caregiver for any of them. Those are just some of the reasons a landlord can use to try to evict you. There are more reasons listed in the RTA, but you cannot be evicted for any reason that is not in the RTA. IMPORTANT If you do not want to leave, or if you do not agree with the reasons in the notice, you do not have to move out. But, get legal advice right away. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 16 of 25

17 Amount of Notice Your Landlord Has To Give You The Notice to Quit must tell you the date your landlord wants you to move out by. Your landlord must give you the notice a certain number of days before that date. Some types of notice must tell you that you can cancel the notice if you stop or correct whatever your landlord says you are doing wrong. For example, this usually applies if the notice is for owing rent, causing damage, or disturbing your landlord or other tenants. If You Do Not Move Out You might decide to move out after your landlord gives you notice. If you do not, the next step is for your landlord to apply to Residential Tenancies for an eviction order. When your landlord applies to Residential Tenancies, your landlord must give you: The application which will tell you the time and place of the Residential Tenancies hearing; and, Explain what your landlord is asking Residential Tenancy Officer for. EXCEPTION In some situations, your landlord does not have to give you a notice or an application, and Residential Tenancies can order your eviction without holding a hearing. For more information on hearings: If the Residential Tenancies Officer Held a Hearing. There are several different types of forms for evictions. All of the forms will start with Notice to Quit and will either say it is for rental arrears, statutory breach or additional circumstances. The Last Updated: August 2014 Page 17 of 25

18 form filed with Residential Tenancies for a hearing will be called Application to Director. Residential Tenancies will schedule a hearing to decide if there is enough reason to evict you. A Residential Tenancy Officer is in charge of the hearing. At the hearing, you can bring evidence and explain the reasons why he/she should not evict you. NOTE It is very important to go to your hearing. If you do not go and you do not stop your landlord's application in some other way, Residential Tenancies can hold the hearing without you. If that happens, the Residential Tenancies Officer will probably decide to evict you because they will not hear your side of the case. You have the right to have a lawyer or someone else represent you at the hearing and at any step along the way. Find information on how to contact your local Legal Aid Office for legal advice and/or information and other resources here: Contacts There can be a lot of things to do to prepare for a hearing. So, look for legal help and start getting ready for your hearing as soon as you can. NOTE Sometimes you can stop your landlord's eviction application before the hearing. For example: make a written agreement with your landlord, or pay everything you owe plus any fees your landlord paid to Residential Tenancies, if the application is based on you owing rent. But, you could still be evicted if you do not follow exactly the right steps. So make sure to get more information and legal advice before trying to do this. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 18 of 25

19 What The Hearing Is About It is up to your landlord to prove to Residential Tenancies that there is a legal reason to evict you. You have the right to question or challenge any witnesses or evidence your landlord presents at the hearing. And you have the right to speak and present your own evidence and witnesses. The Residential Tenancy Officer must always take into account your circumstances and whether your landlord has been following the law and the tenancy agreement. Even if the Residential Tenancy Officer agrees that there is a legal reason to evict you, the Residential Tenancy Officer does not have to evict you. In some cases, the Residential Tenancy Officer must let you stay. This applies if the Residential Tenancy Officer agrees that your landlord: Has seriously failed to follow the law or the tenancy agreement, or Is trying to evict you because you did something to protect your legal rights or because you have children. So, at your hearing, make sure to tell the Residential Tenancy Officer member everything that you want them to consider when deciding whether to evict you. You might want to make notes and take them to the hearing so you can remember everything you want to say. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 19 of 25

20 NOTE It is very important to bring evidence to your hearing, for example, witnesses, photos, audio or video recordings, inspectors' reports, work orders, letters, or anything else that can help you prove your case to the Residential Tenancy Officer. If your landlord's application is about you owing rent and if the Residential Tenancy Officer decides that your landlord has not been following the law or the tenancy agreement, the Residential Tenancy Officer can also make orders to deal with those problems. For example, if he/she decides there are repair problems, the Residential Tenancy Officer could order your landlord to fix the problems or cancel some of the rent that you owe. But, even if the Residential Tenancy Officer agrees that your landlord has not followed the law or the tenancy agreement, the Residential Tenancy Officer will almost never cancel all the rent you owe. So, if you do owe rent, you should still try to suggest a payment plan that you think you will be able to follow. If There Is an Eviction Order Against You If the Residential Tenancy Officer has made an eviction order against you and you do not want to leave, you must do something about it right away. If the Residential Tenancies Officer Held a Hearing The Residential Tenancy Officer may have made the order because he/she agreed with your landlord, or because you missed the hearing. If either of these things happened, you might be Last Updated: August 2014 Page 20 of 25

21 able to stop the eviction by appealing the decision to Small Claims Court. If the eviction is based on you owing rent, you also might be able to stop it by paying everything you owe plus your landlord's legal expenses. In any of these situations, you must act very quickly and you must follow exactly the right steps. So it is best to get more detailed information or legal help first. Find information on how to contact your local Legal Aid Office for legal advice and/or information and other resources here: Contacts If The Residential Tenancies Officer Did Not Hold a Hearing In some situations, the Residential Tenancy Officer can make an eviction order without holding a hearing, but only for unpaid rent. The landlord has to show that you were served with the Notice to Quit for Rental Arrears and you did not pay your rent and did not file an Application to the Director to oppose the eviction. If your landlord does this, you might find out about it for the first time when you get an Order of the Director that you have to leave your place. You must act very quickly to stop the eviction. You will have to file an appeal with Small Claims Court within 10 calendar days of the date of the order. You should get legal advice. Find information on how to contact your local Legal Aid Office for legal advice and/or information and other resources here: Contacts Last Updated: August 2014 Page 21 of 25

22 Enforcing the Eviction Order If the eviction order is not stopped, the Sheriff is the official who is in charge of enforcing or carrying out the eviction order. If you have not moved out by the date in the eviction order, the landlord can have the Order of the Director become an Order in Small Claims Court. The Sheriff can then enforce the order and make you leave. The landlord can then change the locks. Only the Sheriff can physically evict you from your place. The law does not let your landlord, a private bailiff, or a security guard physically evict you. Your Personal Belongings You must take everything with you on or before the day your tenancy ends. If you leave any of your belongings behind, the landlord should make an inventory of the items and file it with Residential Tenancies. If you have not reclaimed your belongings after 60 days, the landlord can sell or get rid of the items. The money from the sale can go towards any unpaid rent first and then to any damages. Any remaining money is to be given to the Public Trustee. In any other situation, it is illegal for your landlord to take any of your things. This is true even if you owe your landlord money. You can also apply to Residential Tenancies to order your landlord to return your things or to pay you for having taken them. For more information about whether the landlord can take your things: Can Your Landlord Keep Your Belongings Last Updated: August 2014 Page 22 of 25

23 Other Areas Covered By The Residential Tenancies Act (Rta) The RTA covers many other things, such as: Rules that apply to mobile home parks and land lease communities; Rules that apply to rent-geared-to-income (RGI) or subsidized housing; Detailed rules about assigning and subletting; and, Other reasons for eviction not listed in this article. Who You Should Speak To If You Have Issues Inspectors Sometimes a government inspector's report can help get your landlord to do repairs, or can be used as evidence at a Residential Tenancy Hearing. To have your place inspected, you can phone your local building inspector department, or your city hall, municipal office, or local councilor. You can find these numbers in the government section of your phone book or call 211 for assistance. Your Neighbours Find out if your neighbours are concerned about some of the same things you are. It is usually better to work with other tenants in your building or your tenants' association when dealing with harassment, rent increases, maintenance issues, or other problems that affect more than one tenant. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 23 of 25

24 Where To Get Help And Information Nova Scotia Legal Aid If you are a tenant with low income, contact your Nova Scotia Legal Aid Office for advice and/or assistance. You can find your local Nova Scotia Legal Aid Office by looking under Lawyers in your phone book. You can also check the Nova Scotia Legal Aid website at Legal Aid Offices (www.nslegalaid.ca) or phone: Toll Free: Halifax: Access Nova Scotia (Residential Tenancies) Website: Access Nova Scotia - Residential Tenancies Toll Free: Halifax: TTY: Dalhousie Legal Aid Service (DLAS) Website: DLAS Halifax: Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia You may be able to get free advice about your family law issue from a lawyer for up to 20 minutes. This service is provided over the phone. Call the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia at , to find out if you qualify for this service. Website: LISNS Toll Free: (within Nova Scotia) Halifax: Last Updated: August 2014 Page 24 of 25

25 Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission Website: Human Rights Commission Toll Free: Halifax: TTY: Small Claims Court Website: The Courts of Nova Scotia - Small Claims Court Halifax: TTY: Dial-a-Law Website: Dial-a-Law How LISNS Can Help Not Toll Free: Nova Scotia Website: Homepage Nova Scotia Toll Free: Disclaimer: This site contains general legal information for residents of Nova Scotia, Canada. It is not intended to be used as legal advice for a specific legal problem. Last Updated: August 2014 Page 25 of 25

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